Death Sentence (1967)

Sentenza di morte

directed by Mario Lanfranchi. Starring Robin Clarke, Richard Conte, Tomas Milian, Adolfo Celi, Enrico Maria Salerno

the German titles had to include Django somehow

The German titles had to include "Django" somehow

Once in a while there comes along a director who gets a chance to work on a spaghetti western and then as soon as he's done he moves onto another genre never to return to again. This is exactly what happened with Mario Lanfranchi. He also brought a newcomer as his star, American actor Robin Clarke. Was this a good thing that he never worked in this genre again or did he leave the public wanting more and more?

Diaz (Conte) wishes he was a camel right now

Diaz (Conte) wishes he was a camel right now

Our story opens with Cash (Robin Clarke) hot on the trail of Diaz (Richard Conte, star of the Rat Pack film Ocean's 11). The pursuit is through the blazing heat of the desert. Diaz is short of water and slowly running out of steam. Cash taunts him with water and occasionally shots are traded but Diaz has no strength to aim properly. Watching the weakened Diaz Cash remembers back to the day that his brother was shot and killed by four greedy men and Diaz wounds Cash as well. Cash takes no pity on Diaz watching him slowly die from thirst under the scorching sun. With nightfall, Cash builds a false well which tricks Diaz and that ends up becoming his tomb. That was something of a nice touch. Cash now finished with Diaz he walks through the desert to his next target, Montero (Enrico Maria Salerno). Montero the greedy gambler (aren't they all greedy to some extent?) decides to take on Cash in a game of poker. Here Cash tries to get inside Montero's mind and figure out how to defeat him. Able to beat him in their first encounter Cash meets a lovely local woman (who herself was lost in a game of poker to Montero) who does her best to warn him. Being the justice seeking avenger Cash hears none of it and she is found murdered in the streets. Cash finds Montero back in the saloon ready for another round and this time the stakes are the highest a man can offer. Montero's overconfidence is his undoing and he too is killed…

Brother Baldwin (Adolfo Celi), the self righteous murdering man of God, kills those who oppose him and those who opposed God's Will. He has a vast network of henchmen and followers who know about Cash's approach. Cash decides to meet Baldwin unarmed, but he tries to hide his gun which is easily located. In typical God-fearing fashion Cash is tortured, shot, and left in the desert until Baldwin and his gang return for him. In the mean time Baldwin sets the locals' village to the torch saying he forgives their sins. What an absolute merciful thing to do, maybe next time he'll kill their livestock. With guys like him imposing God's Will who needs satanic murdering lunatics? Upon their return Cash has a surprise for Baldwin… He moves on to the fourth and final murderer O'Hara.

Tomas Milian as O'hara

Ah, the final episode - featuring a gold loving albino epileptic gunman named O'Hara (Tomas Milian). Cash makes O'Hara's weakness for gold his aim and brings in a whole wagon load to be deposited in the local bank. The bank in question appears to be seriously lacking in funds, customers, and even employees. When O'Hara and his men arrive Cash has left and tricked them with boxes of rocks. O'Hara manages to escape the trap but the rest can't be said of the gang. He regroups and gathers more henchmen who try and ambush Cash in a canyon. But the appearance of a gorgeous blonde woman prevents O'Hara from opening fire (the gold weakness again). The final showdown between the two takes place in a dark mountain mission locale which looks like a tomb for the loser…

I was thoroughly impressed with this one. Having it cut into four separate episodes dealing with each of the brother's killers was interesting and kept the movie moving along. The cat and mouse of the first one has become one of my favorite series of events. Lanfranchi's opening scenes shot against the harsh desert really stood out. There's an overwhelming feeling of dread in them from which Diaz will never survive. Actually, the whole movie feels like death walks the earth. The music done by Gianni Ferrio is minimalist and fits perfectly with the atmosphere created by Lanfranchi. Tomas Milian was excellent and played O'Hara very over the top with his fits of epilepsy. Newcomer Clarke plays the avenger perfect, and sadly would not return to the genre. I would not have wanted someone bigger in the role as it would have turned out differently, in my opinion. While there are several other small characters in the movie it never feels like they get in the way or are around for very long.

Just to clarify on the character of Cash, the Koch Media DVD I watched calls the character Django (The German audio and English subtitles refer to him as such). No big surprise as the original Django (1966) was immensely popular in Germany. But when watching it Conte, who speaks English, clearly mouths the name Cash, not Django. Also, on the commentary track, Lanfranchi states the character is Cash as well. That being said, this release is first rate. The movie appears that it was shot yesterday and the audio and subtitles are clear and understandable. The English subtitles match up with the German audio track but not the Italian one. This release also comes with director's commentary (previously stated) in English. WOW! That's better than most R1 releases.

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